World Economic Forum panel highlights the power of football in the fight against malaria

May 05 2010
Posted in: Policy, Sport 0Comments

MTN and Standard Bank Call on Businesses across Africa to Join them in Becoming Malaria Safe Before Conclusion of the World Cup

The importance of the FIFA World Cup in delivering a lasting legacy in the fight against malaria was underlined by a high-level panel at the World Economic Forum in Tanzania today. The progress made by the United Against Malaria partnership in using football to engage politicians, business leaders and individuals was hailed as a template for future action against the disease. The leaders then issued a challenge to businesses and football associations to help make the first FIFA World Cup to be held on African soil, a true turning point in eliminating malaria across Africa.

The panel was jointly hosted by the United Against Malaria (UAM) partnership and the African Leaders Malaria Alliance (ALMA), including President Kikwete of Tanzania, President Kagame of Rwanda and UAM champions including Clive Tasker, Chief executive, Standard Bank Africa and Nozipho January-Bardill, Group Executive for Corporate Affairs of MTN, the first African company to sponsor the FIFA World Cup.

The United Against Malaria partnership is bringing together global health organisations, governments, corporations and football teams ahead of the 2010 World Cup in South Africa to help reach the United Nations target of universal access to mosquito nets and malaria medicine in Africa by the end of 2010, a crucial first step to reaching the international target of reducing malaria deaths to near zero by 2015. The campaign is supported by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

“We are on track to reach our fundamental goal of getting mosquito nets to all those in need by the end of 2010, but we still have to make sure that nets are being used properly,” said Ray Chambers, the UN Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Malaria. “Too often, nets are being left in their packaging or not utilised properly, but by combining Africa’s enthusiasm for football with messages encouraging proper net utilisation, we know we can save lives.”

Football reaches the popular masses and engages children to imitate their heroes and can help get across important messages about sleeping under nets for example. Many African companies are grappling with the challenge of protecting their employees and their families from the ravages of the disease and have been hooked into the campaign as a result of the link with football and the impending World Cup in South Africa. With malaria-associated expenses costing the African economy an estimated $12 billion per year, the need for corporate leadership is vital.

“Malaria costs our company $6 million a year in lost revenue from sick days and much more in lost productivity, we only realised the true impact after becoming involved in this campaign,” said Clive Tasker, Chief Executive, Standard Bank Africa. “On World Malaria Day, we joined MTN and Nando’s in committing to become malaria safe ahead of the World Cup to collectively protect around 150,000 people, including employees and their families.”

UAM partners from African businesses are playing a major role in both protecting employees and using their expertise, in terms of logistics, technology or marketing, to help deliver the tools to fight malaria and educate on their correct use. MTN and Standard Bank also have a huge reach with over 100 million customers across Africa between them, and strong connections with African football, which they are leveraging to deliver motivating messages. Smaller companies have also become interested in malaria through the campaign. SSB Flour Mill, based in Dar es Salaam, estimates that 25 percent of staff miss at least one day a month due to malaria. So they too have signed up to protect their staff and keep work productivity and profits in place.

“Businesses of all sizes have realized that it makes economic sense to put processes in place to protect their employees from malaria,” said Ms Nozipho January-Bardill, MTN’s Group Executive: Corporate Affairs. “Our anti-malaria efforts aim to create a lasting legacy from our World Cup sponsorship by utilising our operating footprint to support malaria awareness and education campaigns aimed at reducing the prevalence of this silent killer in Africa. As the world gears up for the kickoff of Africa’s first World Cup, we wish to issue a challenge to other corporations to join this important effort.”

As part of the United Against Malaria partnership, national football associations including Ghana, Uganda and Tanzania have thrown their weight behind the effort to reduce the impact of malaria on their teams and their communities. In Tanzania, the national malaria control program has adopted the UAM partnership, using football as a vehicle in driving behavioural change. This year, 14 million mosquito nets will be delivered across Tanzania by the government, and messages from the national team will play a crucial role in ensuring that children in particular are protected by them.

“No African team has ever won the World Cup and I am positive our success on the football field has been severely held back by malaria,” said Leodegar Tenga, President of the Tanzania Football Federation. “More importantly though, is the impact malaria has on our friends and families. I believe it is our duty as national football teams to do all we can to help stop deaths from this disease. I would ask my counterparts to do just one thing this year – to help educate the public on the dangers of malaria.”

Simple tools such as long-lasting, insecticide-treated mosquito nets, effective medicines and indoor spraying, have reduced malaria deaths by more than 50 percent in countries like Rwanda and Zambia. With 60 million mosquito nets due to be distributed across football loving Nigeria by the end of the year, applying the lessons learned from the United Against Malaria partnership in using football to deliver messages and to engage a broad range of partners could greatly enhance the impact of these life saving tools.

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